Three Rivers 22.1

Twenty-second Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Toby Gustafson and Toni Gustafson are a game-generated household that MC Command Center moved into a home in Willow Creek.

22.  A letter from a forgotten friend

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So, Missy was dead. Toby wasn’t surprised. At his age, he was surprised when old friends were still alive. News of deaths merely confirmed that the calendar pages were turned, torn off, and tossed away, after all, like the memories of old days.

His grand-niece Toni, who lived with him while finishing her dissertation at university, broke the news at breakfast.

“I got a letter from Granddad,” she said. “You better sit.”

“Nah. I’ll stand. Anything that requires sitting to be heard had better be heard standing up. That way, you can scoop me off the floor when I pass out from shock.”

“You goof, Uncle Toby.”

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She told him gently, nonetheless.

Of course he remembered Missy. They’d grown up in the same neighborhood.

And then there was Scott, Toby’s best friend who’d married Missy after high school.

Toby asked after him.

“Granddad wrote that he was all right–I mean, as all right as could be expected.”

“Geez. It’s been twenty years since I last saw old Scotty-Scooter. It was at your grandma’s fiftieth. You remember that party? You were just a little thing in cornrows and bead baubles.”

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“I do remember!” Toni said.

“You were one cute little girl,” said Uncle Toby. “Not that anybody would ever imagine that now, looking at you.”

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Toni headed off to the university to teach her section of History and Culture.

Maybe I should write old Scotty-Scooter, Toby thought. He began mentally composing the letter while finishing up breakfast.

Hey, hey, Scooter Man!

What’s up in the old neighborhood? Remember staying out till the street lights came on, then sneaking back out once the old folks were in bed? You, me, and Missy. Those were the days!

I hear Missy’s gone.

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He grabbed another half a sandwich. That was no letter to send an old friend who’s lost his wife. He scratched it out in his mind.

Hey, hey, Scooter Man! 

What’s up in the old neighborhood? Remember staying out till the street lights came on, then sneaking back out once the old folks were in bed? You, me, and Missy. Those were the days!

I hear Missy’s gone. 

Try again later.

Towards evening, with his mind still on the letter he wanted to write, Toby put on his walking clothes and headed out. Maybe some fresh air would help him find the words.

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What do you write an old friend who’s lost the only girl he ever loved?

Scooter. I heard the bad news. I’m bummed for you, brother.

Scott hadn’t heard from him for decades. He didn’t want to just start as if they were still lanky kids running down the street after dark.

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On his walk, he met one of his regular guys, Nash Downing. How would he write to Nash, if Nash had lost somebody? He wouldn’t. He’d talk with him.

“Downing, my man! What’s happening?”

“Toby! Boss! What’s up?”

After Nash Downing brought him up to speed on the latest with his two daughters, the current political polls, Alec Dolan’s latest speech, and J Huntington’s rebuttal, Toby asked him for advice about the letter.

“I’m at a loss,” Toby confided. “What do I say?”

“Just write from the heart, man,” said Nash. “Words don’t really matter. It’s the feelings that count.”

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His heart was full of so much. Where to start?

He passed Alec Dolan on the river walk.

“Hey, man. I heard about your latest speech. For the butterflies, huh? Tug at the old heart-strings. Pull on the imagination. Appeal to the dreamer in all of us. Butterflies. Huh! Well, you’re good with words. Think you could help me write a letter to an old friend?”

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“Ah, no,” said Alec.”English, it is the second language of mine, no? So I am not the best candidate for this particular job. Though, as you know, I am the best candidate for the upcoming job we are voting on, no? But when it comes to letters, you should ask my speech writer. That’s the deal!”

Toby chuckled. He should have known a busy politician would have no time for an old man.

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It was Wednesday, and there’d be free burgers at the park, courtesy of Run and Fun. The club members would still be wrapping up their walks and jogs before flocking to the park for the picnic. He’d have a good spell to eat alone and think before the hungry horde descended.

In solitude, he took another shot at the letter.

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Scooter. What can I say? It was you, me, and Missy for all those years growing up. Hey, did you know Missy was the first girl I kissed?

Of course, you knew that. That’s why you gave me that black eye.

Oh, the fights we had! You still have that scar on your left shoulder? I swear–I didn’t know that hoe was there when I pushed you. You forgave me. That was lucky. Too bad your pa carried his grudge to the grave.

This was not the letter to send. Scratch.

Scooter. What can I say? It was you, me, and Missy for all those years growing up. Hey, did you know Missy was the first girl I kissed?

Of course, you knew that. That’s why you gave me that black eye. 

Oh, the fights we had! You still have that scar on your left shoulder? I swear–I didn’t know that hoe was there when I pushed you. You forgave me. That was lucky. Too bad your pa carried his grudge to the grave. 

Before the famished folks filled the park, Toby headed out, back to the walking path.

Janet Fuchs and Geoffrey Landgraab came up to him, asking if he could volunteer with making campaign calls.

“Yeah, no,” he said. “You know I support the cause. But no. I don’t do calls.”

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“I’d do it,” said Geoffrey, “but my hands are pretty much tied. Conflict-of-interest, you know. With Nancy, and all.”

Janet laughed. “I still say it would be great if you came out in the open with your support, you know. Everybody can read your true feelings. You’re not really hiding anything.”

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“But domestic bliss,” Toby said, “maintaining that is a balance act. Am I right, Geoffrey? Sometimes, we got to keep the secrets we gotta keep in order to keep a happy home.”

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He flashed then, all of a sudden on a night in May, when Missy met him up by the old oak.

“This is the last time,” she said.

He pretended to agree. But as he spread the blanket beneath the oak boughs, they knew, even though she was now Scooter’s wife, this wouldn’t be the last time. They kept it up until Toby left town to join the Air Force. He never told her that was why he left. Heck, he couldn’t even admit that to himself.

What do you write your old friend who married the woman you couldn’t get enough of?

How do you keep the old dead secrets while still sharing the warmth you had for a friendship that once was?

When you had that much in your heart, you didn’t dare write from the heart.

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“Evening, Toby,” said Esmeralda.

“Evening, Esmeralda.” Now she was a fine woman. A big generous heart like hers was too full of warmth to hide any secrets. They’d all just melt away.

“You much of a correspondent?” Toby asked her.

“Why, I write the odd letter,” she replied.

He told her about the letter he had to write. “I just don’t know where to start,” he said.

“Do you know,” she asked, “there are actually formal conventions for letters like this? Keep it short. Write simply and sincerely. Acknowledge the loss. Offer condolences. Describe your relationship with the deceased and how you’ll miss them. Share a memory. Offer support. Close with affection. That’s all you need to do.”

It wouldn’t do.

Dear Scott,

I heard about Missy. My condolences, brother. You know how far back we all go. Did you know she was the first girl I kissed? You must have known. Why else would we fight so? But I bet you didn’t know she was all my firsts. 

Is that oak tree still there on the hill top? I miss her every time I see an oak.

But I was happy for you two. I loved you, too. I knew I didn’t want no wife. I knew you did. And Missy loved you, too. Missy loved you. She told me one night, lying under that oak, looking up at the moon between the black branches, that you would always be the one she’d choose. I was just for this–for the nights under the oak. That was when I knew I had to leave.

My life’s been good. I’ve loved all the women, not the one wife. I’ve loved them all. And I’ve thought of you and your life with Missy, finding happiness like old married farts do. You ever think of me? You remember me, brother?

Scotty-Scooter. You were my first friend, man.

Toni was still up when he got home.

“I don’t know what to write to Scott,” he confessed. “You think he even remembers me?”

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“Of course he does, Uncle,” Toni said. “You don’t forget your first friend. You two were like brothers.”

“Do I have to write?” Toby asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m afraid you do.”

“What do I say?”

“Try this,” said Toni, and she began to speak:

Dear Scott,

We heard through Stefan the news about Missy. We’re both sad and touched by this. Toni remembers dancing with Missy at Shelly’s fiftieth birthday party. And you know that I harbor a lifetime of love and honor for you and Missy and the life the two of you made together.

We’ll be visiting Stefan around Christmastime, and we’d like to see you then, too, to laugh about the old times and enjoy being two old codgers who used to be young bucks. If Toni and I can do anything for you before we make it back home, just let us know.

With old love from your forgotten friend,

Toby

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When she finished reciting, Toby pumped his fist.

“Yes! Now that’s a letter,” he said. “I don’t know how you do this, precious, but you got the knack of speaking truth while walking through the valley of shadows and silence. You think you can remember that when I get the paper and pen?”

“Oh, yes!” she said. “Or if not, what we come out with the next time will be even better!”

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Three Rivers 14.1

Fourteenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

14. What you see is what you get.

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No matter how many different ways Janet Fuchs tried categorizing the financial contributions to the Green Party campaign and general election funds , Geoffrey Landgraab’s always stood out.

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“It’s going to raise suspicions,” she confided to Arianna. “I just can’t find a way to camouflage it. Not that I’d want to.”

“Can’t you leave it anonymous?” Arianna asked.

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“Not in this amount,” Janet said.

Reports were due in a few months, and Janet couldn’t find a way to keep Geoffrey’s financial donations a secret.

“It’s going to have to come out,” she said.

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“Can’t we list is as coming from a corporation?”

“Only if we want an even bigger scandal,” said Janet. “They’d track it. It’s better this way. Everything out in the open.”

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“His wife won’t like it,” Arianna said.

“I know,” said Janet. “But it might be best in the long run, don’t you think?”

Arianna knew about Geoffrey and his feelings for Janet: Janet had shared everything, even her own attraction for him, as well as her fondness.

“The funny thing is,” Janet had told Arianna, “I could actually see it working out between me and Geoffrey, in a different universe. There’s something that fits between us.” Confiding to Arianna had brought them closer: knowing that Janet chose Arianna and their family, knowing there weren’t any secrets between them, knowing that if any secrets did arise, they’d share them with each other, all of this connected them with an even stronger bond.

“Maybe he’ll finally start sharing some of his secrets with Nancy,” Janet said, hopeful.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” said Arianna.

“I’ve got a secret!” said their son Orion. “Who wants to know my secret?”

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“I do!” said Arianna, sitting beside him.

“My history teacher was a complete jerk today,” said Orion. “Can I say that?”

“You can tell us what happened,” said Arianna.

“He said that there were no formal schools in Medieval times. But everyone knows that Charlemagne began the first schools in the early 800’s.”

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“Maybe he just meant that there were no widespread educational opportunities for most boys and girls,” Arianna replied.

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“But if that’s what he meant,” said Orion, “why not just say so?”

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Janet had to smile. Her own straightforward, literal approach worked well with their son. She’d discovered when he was a little boy that statements that weren’t factual, even if made in jest, caused him to become distraught. Her own mind was practical and honest; she enjoyed having her proclivities reinforced by the family communication style.

One of her tasks as the Green Party finance manager brought her regularly to the parks and open spaces of Three Rivers. There, she’d meet with other nature lovers, the birdwatchers, fishermen and women, and park-goers, to share the party’s platform and initiatives. Often, they’d offer small contributions or ask about upcoming rallies and other events to raise awareness.

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She was occasionally surprised by the skepticism and cynicism she encountered.

“Who’s behind you?” asked one woman. “Don’t get me wrong. I like your cause. It’s just that I can’t see you going up against the big corporations. They’ve got this whole marina slated for development. You think they’re going to back down because a few voters are upset?”

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Later that morning, she ran into Savannah, a fellow Green, at the park.

“You should have told her that Geoffrey Landgraab and all of Landgraab Industries were behind us!” Savannah said.

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“God, no!” said Janet. “I mean not yet. We’re going to have to come out with it, eventually, but until then…”

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” said Savannah. “So his wife does find out? Geoffrey just needs to grow a pair, get up on his platform and call out, ‘Power to the People, you money-hunger land grabber!'”

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Savannah laughed at her own joke. “That’d be rich!” she said. “Maybe he’ll change his name: Geoffrey Green!”

Janet chuckled in spite of herself. Savannah always made her smile.

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On the way home, Janet met Geoffrey, out for his morning jog. His smile at seeing her faded the moment she said, “I’m so glad to run into you. We’ve got to talk.”

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She explained about the finance contribution reports coming due in a few months and how she had to declare the sources of all the funds.

“All the funds?” Geoffrey asked. She nodded. “But my wife doesn’t know!”

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“You have a few months to tell her, then,” Janet said.

“But how? And what? Everything?” Geoffrey asked.

“I’m only responsible for reporting the sources of the contributions, Geoffrey,” Janet said. “That’s all that will be made public.”

“But that’s everything,” he said. “You don’t realize. Money. The Greens. The Conservatives. I’m not supposed to be funding the opposition!”

“We present a good cause,” Janet said. “Tell her about eco-tourism!”

“I can’t. I…” Geoffrey began to hyperventilate. “I’ve got to go.” And he jogged off.

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When she got home, she was met by Arianna, who came from the container garden, where she’d been pinching the petunias.

“Did you round up lots of voters?” Arianna asked. “All the butterfly lovers?”

“One butterfly lover got away,” laughed Janet. “I just hope he’s not flying into a big net!”

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Three Rivers 12.1

Twelfth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

12. This poem was never written

twelve30

A shot of cortisol seeped through Geoffrey’s veins when he saw Nancy on his computer.

He closed the bedroom door behind him as he retreated to the empty stairwell.

“Arianna?” he said as his phone call was answered. “I’ve got a big problem.”

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He nodded his head at the receiver while he listened to the voice at the other end.

“You sure?” he said at last. “She won’t be able to trace anything?”

For four months, Geoffrey had been shuttling funds from his private offshore account to the Green party. There was nothing illegal or even suspicious about it: it was his money, lawfully gotten, tax-declared and everything, and he could do with it what he wanted. He just didn’t want Nancy to know.

She’d been funding the Conservatives for the past decade.

Arianna, head of the hacking consultant group that Landgraab Industries hired for their security work, assured Geoffrey that there was no way Nancy could access his financial records on his computer. She’d checked last time she worked on his computer: his data was safely partitioned in a virtual drive that no other users could access without getting past a long series of security checks, including a retina scan.

“Your data’s safe,” she assured him.

He took a few deep breaths. Janet had been telling him how bad stress was for him. “You look tense,” she had said at yoga class a few nights before. “Breathe.”

She showed him how to put his hands on his abdomen and do belly breaths. The gesture was so intimate, and he felt so vulnerable, standing and breathing with another woman. Maybe that had been when it had happened.

“I’ll be back late,” Nance was saying. “Or maybe not at all.”

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She had a meeting for the Conservatives. He knew she was seeing J Huntington III, the Conservative’s candidate. He always smelled J’s cologne on her after party meetings. Plus, he could tell from the way that J treated him, and from the way that Nancy looked at J, and from the ways that the light around their bodies inclined towards each other whenever they were in the same room. They were lovers.

It made him feel less badly about his growing affection for Janet.

“You’ll be out all night?” Geoffrey said. “But I miss you when you’re gone.”

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“I don’t think you do,” she said. “Or at least, if you do, you’ll get over it. Watch a movie with Malcolm or something. Read a book.”

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She laughed. She looked amazing. His pulse still sped up when he saw her, though he recognized now that it was adrenaline that made his pulse race. Fight or flight. And then once she was out of sight, the cortisol would be released again and he’d feel that sinking feeling.

Cortisol was messing with his blood sugar. It wasn’t easy being married to Nancy.

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After he heard the Porsche drive off , he got on his computer. The plastic seat still held Nancy’s body heat.

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The files looked OK, and he felt better. He should trust Arianna. She wasn’t the lead hacker and security expert for nothing.

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His footsteps sounded loudly on the concrete stairs. Malcolm was out. He’d asked him to bring Cassandra back home after school. “Hang out here,” he said. “We can watch a movie.” Malcolm had laughed in his face.

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He wondered what Janet was doing right then. Maybe she was making supper for Arianna and Orion. Maybe they were having salad, and she was slicing tomatoes at that exact moment. One thing, she was breathing right then. Geoffrey remembered how she’d showed him to breathe, and he felt his pulse steady.

This house was so lonely.

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He ate his supper standing in the kitchen, looking out over the canyon. He pretended he could see the lights from Willow Creek in the distance.

After supper, he couldn’t find a movie that held his attention. He flipped through an old Le Carre novel he’d read dozens of times, Honourable Schoolboy. He stopped at one of his favorite lines: “It is also the pardonable vanity of lonely people everywhere to assume that they have no counterparts.”

He fell asleep wondering if, perhaps, Janet, with her eyes that filled at times with a softness that looked like loneliness, might be his true counterpart, and if so, then maybe an end to his loneliness were in sight.

He woke up inside of a dream. He was swimming in a warm pool.

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Petunias and pansies perfumed the air. Waterfalls rained down. He felt a surge of vitality propel him up and out of the water. He was alive and strong!  Through him he felt one emotion coursing: love! Geoffrey Landgraab was in love.

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Nancy’s side of the bed was still empty when Geoffrey woke shortly before dawn.

He had to get out of the house. Arianna had told him that Janet sometimes took walks through the park in the early morning. This was a good morning for a picnic breakfast, Geoffrey decided.

Bjorn was playing chess when Geoffrey arrived at the park, and Max, who must have decided to skip school, was strolling through.

Geoffrey put the skewers of fruit he’d brought with him on the grill. You never knew when somebody might want to join you for breakfast, he thought. It was good to be prepared.

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He waited before he sat down with his meal.

Mockingbird songs sound louder when the park is empty.

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He thought back to the first time he met Janet. He’d seen her around before: it was hard not to notice that Scandinavian face, that Valkyrie body. And when she spoke–even butter wasn’t softer.

Arianna introduced them. She found out that Geoffrey wanted to support the Greens.

“It’s the butterflies,” Geoffrey had said. “They need the open spaces. I know what J wants to do with the fields and woodlands. It’s not pretty.”

“My wife is in charge of the finances for the Greens,” Arianna had said. “She can let you know how you can best help.”

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He and Janet had talked for hours during their first meeting.

He became aware something unusual was happening to him when he kept giggling. He wasn’t normally one to giggle. And Janet wasn’t all that funny. But something inside him felt funny, like he was being tickled from the inside out.

He realized he was flirting with her when he asked what yoga studio she went to. Yoga! What did he know about yoga?

But he started going to yoga every other day. Sometimes, she was in the class with him. And sometimes, like that one evening, she would show him how to breathe or hold a pose or repeat a mantra.

“You’d be surprised,” she said, “how mantras can really make something happen. It’s because of the shift within you.”

Someone approached the table where he sat. Ah! Just the gardener.

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He tried to think of a mantra. “What you most desire will appear.”

He said it over and over. Magical thinking. Is this what he’d been reduced to?

But then he saw her! She was talking to Bjorn’s wife, there at the edge of the park.

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“Janet!” he called, and he ran towards her.

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She waited for him, looking over her shoulder.

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Do you feel adrenaline when you’re in love? His heart pounded. Then that sinking feeling as the cortisol spread through him. Fight or flight? Or lust. He stayed.

“Janet,” he said.

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She smiled. Did she feel it, too? Her face was so open. She didn’t wear any make-up, did she? Nancy wore make-up to bed–he hadn’t kissed a woman without make-up since junior high. He smelled patchouli.

“Wait!” she said, as he leaned in for an embrace.

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“Geoffrey! You’re married! I’m married! Nancy and Arianna, remember? We’ve got kids!”

She was right.

“You’re right,” he said. “Right. Right.” He tried to laugh it off, but his blood sugar was dropping fast.

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“I like you, Geoffrey,” Janet said. “You are a great guy. Maybe, you know, different world, different life, different sexual orientation–things could be different!”

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He was saved when some of the members of the Greens approached them.

“We need to talk,” said Dominic Fyres. “I just got the polls in, and the numbers aren’t good.”

“Breathe,” whispered Janet, as she and Dominic went over the figures he’d brought her.

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The news wasn’t good, and they left to meet Alec at Emeliano’s café. Geoffrey stood alone on the path.

He pulled out his i-Pad. “Conservative candidate J Huntington III scoffs at concern raised over predictions of the extinction of the monarch butterfly,” read the headlines. Geoffrey scrolled to the comments.

“It is no small thing to lose a small thing.” This was posted by Orion Fuchs, Janet’s son. There are good people in the world, Geoffrey thought, even if they aren’t members of your own family.

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I should be sad, he thought. But he was very happy. It’s brain chemicals. Serotonin.

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The colors looked brighter. What had she said? In a different world. This world looked different. It was no longer the same sorry place, not with these bright colors on every tree.

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It is a beautiful world, isn’t it? A monarch floated over milkweed flower. If it takes a million dollars, thought Geoffrey, and a million and one milkweed seeds.

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It was a beautiful morning still. Geoffrey sat at the bench and pulled up The Honourable Schoolboy on his tablet.

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He stopped at his other favorite line: “Home’s where you go when you run out of homes.”

He didn’t know if he’d run out of homes, for he’d barely begun to look for them. He only knew that the one true home he’d found lay deep inside a tucked-in corner where no one thought to look. But he looked there: he looked and he found brown eyes gazing back, eyes that maybe he’d never actually seen, but ones that understood him, nonetheless.

Three Rivers, 10.1

Tenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

AN: Arianna, Janet, and Orion Fuchs are a game-generated family. They live in a beautiful home built by TheKalinotr0n.

10. The Number 10

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Arianna Fuchs had journeyed through enough beginnings and endings to realize that from every completion rose a commencement.

On the afternoon of her and Janet’s tenth wedding anniversary, she returned home from the Convention of the Clowns of Existential Angst to feel the earth stop for just a moment. Ah! She said to herself. Here we are again, in the pause before we begin.

She found her wife Janet in the courtyard with their son Orion.

“Happy anniversary, Cracker Jacks!” Arianna said.

“How did the happy suit go?” Janet asked. “Did you hack the convention?”

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“Yes and no!” said Arianna. “I sort of followed them around through the Promenade and chased their depressing jokes with my cheerful ones. I left them laughing, at least!”

She hadn’t been invited to the convention; she crashed it, on principle, to ensure that the glass was also seen to be half full. Arianna was a hacker by trade and nature. She headed up the hackers’ collective TB4U, whose mission was expressed by their full name: Take it Back for You.

That was her attitude towards life, too–take it back, for you. Make it work. If it doesn’t fit, hack at it until it does.

The only hacking that she and Janet had needed to do as a couple had been societal and legal. Sometimes, it required a bit of activism, assertion, and finesse to get the legal system and the people in their community to accept the way they fit together, which was like roses and baby’s breath.

They stole a moment in the kitchen while their son finished cooking supper on the grill.

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After their kiss, Janet broke away with a laugh.

“You’re it!” she said, in one of the wild moods that Arianna always prompted, and she ran out of the house, across the street, and towards the river walk.

“You punk!” screamed Arianna, flapping after her in her over-sized clown shoes.

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“Kowabunga!” Arianna caught her and wrapped her in a hug.

They’d planned a quiet, romantic anniversary celebration. No party. Instead, they’d wait until Orion went to bed, and then, in the long hours before Arianna’s graveyard shift at TB4U, they’d find sanctuary in their large bedroom and rediscover the women they’d become during these ten years together.

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“Janet!” Their hug was interrupted by Sierra Trejo, who worked with Janet in the Greens.

“Ten years, huh?” said Sierra, when Janet told her of the special occasion. “Congratulations. Amazing.”

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“It feels like five,” said Arianna.

“Ten years,” Sierra continued. “Isn’t that like a record? Or a milestone? Don’t most marriages fall apart in the first seven? What’s your secret?”

“Remember to laugh,” said Janet. “No matter how serious, no matter how complicated, if you can find the humor, you’ll make it!”

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“Is that why you’re celebrating your anniversary in a clown costume?” Sierra asked.

Arianna didn’t answer right away. She was reflecting on Janet’s advice, remembering hard and confusing times when they’d needed to laugh. Orion was four when Arianna and Janet married. Janet had adopted him the year before. He’d had trouble bonding, the social worker said, and he wasn’t talking, either. He laughed first–at silly things: an apple that sang cereal jingles, funny faces she and Janet made at each other, squeaky voices saying everyday things. From the laughter, it became possible to move on to hugs, genuine smiles, and eventually, words.

“Love,” he called Janet, and “Love-Love” was Arianna.

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Arianna’s thoughts were interrupted when a man joined them.

“Honey-voice!” he said to Janet. “Is that your clown?”

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Janet introduced Sebastian Rhine to her friends.

“You know, Sierra,” she said, “It was Sebastian who inspired Alec to come up with free regional wi-fi.”

“I was there,” Sebastian said, “with the man in the big-eye glasses. That man? Then the little man with the mustache? I was there. I don’t have a mobile device.”

“Just as well!” laughed Arianna. “You can be one of the last of the no-data people! Power to the data-free!”

The sun had set and the street lights came on.

“Race you home!” said Janet, and she sprinted back across the street.

ten32

When they got to the corner, they found that Sebastian had run with them.

“Would you like to join us for supper?” Janet asked. “Orion made enough for a whole village!”

“I don’t eat that much,” Sebastian said. “Could I? Could I come home with you?”

ten33

Arianna laughed as they sat together in the living room. “What’s that they say about generosity, Cracker Jacks?” she asked.

“Good karma?” replied Janet.

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“I know about karma,” said Sebastian. “It’s what brings the blessings. Honey-voice, she has already enough kindness for a whole path of Sunday afternoons. That’s karma.”

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While Janet took Sebastian into the kitchen for supper, Orion pulled out his homework and joined Arianna.

“A king would proclaim it a holiday,” he said, “for peasants and laborers alike.”

“What are you talking about, Or?” Arianna asked.

“Anniversary,” he said. “Should be a holiday. For peasants and laborers alike.”

“And students!” Arianna said.

ten22

“Not students,” replied Orion. “Peasants and laborers alike. Students work all days, even holidays.”

“Sometimes, I let you take holidays,” she reminded Orion. “Remember when we let you stay home all day because you wanted to memorize the Bach partita?”

“Work,” replied Orion.

“Well, sort of. But fun, too, right?”

He smiled and nodded. When she could get him to agree with something that was just a bit broader than what he originally proposed, she always felt the conversation had been a success.

ten21

While Orion finished his homework, Arianna headed upstairs to the computer in their bedroom. She wanted to check on the status of the project they were scheduled to do that night. She found a coded message from SamStar226 indicating that it was a go. That night, they were planning to put in a reverse proxy which was reputed to be untraceable and which would allow them to escape detection while re-encrypting data that some of the more malicious hacking software had un-encrypted.

ten26

They’d been working on this project for Landgraab Industries for nearly six months, and tonight was the night to put it to the test.

“Ari?” Janet said softly, “I’m turning in early. Ori’s still up, and Sebastian is downstairs playing computer games, and you’ve got to go to work soon. Think we can wait? You can wake me when you get home and we can celebrate then.”

Janet’s voice always stirred happiness inside Arianna. She was surprised to discover that she didn’t mind waiting. Her attention had already turned to the night’s project.

“You really do have a honey voice,” she said.

ten25

When she headed downstairs to grab a snack before work, Sebastian quickly shut off the computer and jumped up.

“I was just playing games,” he said.

“That’s fine!” replied Arianna. “I’m a gamer, too! Which games do you like?”

“The race car ones?” he replied.

ten18

“Racing games!” she agreed. “They’re the best.”

“I know! We could play two-person sometime!” Sebastian said. “Do they have that? So we could race each other?”

ten16

“They do!” said Arianna. “And I’d love to play multi-player with you. Not now, though. I’m just heading off to work in a few.”

Sebastian’s face fell. “Then I guess I need to leave, too.”

Arianna thought about the cold night. Janet had explained that Sebastian didn’t have a home, that he lived in the woods in Windenburg.

“You can stay here!” she said. “Play more games. Watch TV. Nap on the couch. When you’re hungry, help yourself to leftovers from the fridge.”

“That would be,” he said with a sigh, “amazing karma.”

ten15

He was still downstairs when Arianna came down after her shower.

ten12

“Goodbye, then,” she said. “Make yourself at home. Orion and Janet will be up before I get back.”

He mumbled something. Arianna’s mind turned to the project that lay before her and her team that night.

ten11

She went through the steps of remote installation and activation. They’d practiced this so many times, and RavenDarkx2Z was sure they’d overlooked nothing. It wasn’t how she’d dreamed of spending her tenth wedding anniversary, but D-day couldn’t be rescheduled. Janet and their queen-sized bed would be there when she got home.

ten10

While she was gone, Sebastian did indeed make himself at home.

He watched cooking shows, though he didn’t own a kitchen.

ten08

He helped himself to leftovers, though he was still full from supper.

ten07

And he imagined what it must be to live in a house like this, with a honey-voiced woman who would be there when he came home.

ten06

If he had a life like this, he would never leave.

ten05

But since this wasn’t his life, he was gone before Arianna returned with the morning sun.

Her back ached and her eyes were so tired, and their project had been a success. The sun kissed her cheeks, and she remembered that she’d had such different ideas about how she wanted to spend their tenth anniversary.

It was the beginning of something new, and they’d seen out the old with their son and a new friend, with rest and work, with kindness and daring.

ten02

Arianna smiled inside to think that the bed that waited for her upstairs would still be warm from the body heat of her wife, and her smile grew wider when she thought that maybe, seven hours from now, while their son was still at school and the house was empty, Janet might join her in that big wide bed and kiss open her eyes, and to the song of the mockingbird, they would discover together this new beginning.